Following a troubled trip in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, Gary Barber’s War of Will found redemption with a 1 ¼-length victory in Saturday’s Grade 1 Preakness and will likely target another American classic in the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 8, according to trainer Mark Casse.
“There are only three Triple Crown races and they are pretty important,” Casse said. “If you can do it, you should do it. Two years ago, I think we were going to be the only one to run in all three with Classic Empire. It took three days of him before the race where he could not walk [before scratching with a foot abscess], so I think that was a legit reason not to run. That’s us, that’s what we do. We run.”
The top three finishers in the Preakness, runner-up Everfast and late-charging Owendale, are also expected to make their next start in the Belmont.
Casse said War of Will was no worse for wear the morning after his Preakness triumph, which provided his conditioner a first victory in a Triple Crown race.
“Just some energy from him. He’s kind of funny. [Hall of Fame trainer] Wayne [Lukas] was around and he said yesterday, ‘Boy he’s got a lot more energy today’,” Casse said. “You can see it when he gallops. I would say there is an extremely good shot that we’ll be there. Now, it’s just a matter of him saying he doesn’t want to go. That would be just if he was lethargic or something. As everyone has seen, he has extremely good energy on the track.”
War of Will Won Twice at Fair Grounds
War of Will stamped himself among the top horses on the Derby trail with a pair of Fair Grounds victories in the Grade 3 LeComte and Grade 2 Risen Star over the winter. He entered the Kentucky Derby off of a ninth-place finish in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby.
Casse said he was proud of the way his charge overcame a difficult trip in the Derby and that a victory in the Belmont would serve to showcase War of Will’s strength and durability.
“It would just show that he’s tough and able to overcome things,” Casse said. “You saw yesterday, the Derby was very trying. He was a little foot sore for a while after (the Derby). It’s a trying race. And the pace was extremely hot yesterday and you saw two deep closers. For our horse to continue on, after he was pretty close to the pace [was impressive]. Even when they were galloping out, he took off again. He wasn’t going to let anybody go by. But as far as the Belmont goes, it’s the third leg of the Triple Crown. Who doesn’t want to win it?”
2019 Preakness Stakes Replay
While Casse always held War of Will in high regard, it was his New York-based assistant Jamie Begg who sent out War of Will for a sharp three-eighths in 36.56 seconds on June 16, 2018 on the Belmont Park dirt training track.
“I actually worked him his first three-eighths against some older horses and I just wanted him to sit off them and not do too much,” Begg said. “He had been a real good training horse and he blew them out of the water. He galloped away from company that was much fitter than he was.
“I sent the video of him working to Mark and [bloodstock agent] Justin [Casse] and Mark said, ‘This horse is something serious’ and that he was a half to a Grade 1 winner,” continued Begg. “And I said to them, ‘Well a Grade 1-winner may end up being a half to him!’ It turned out to be true.”
War of Will Has Strong Turf Pedigree
War of Will’s pedigree is heavily turf based. Aside from being by prominent turf sire War Front, he is out of Visions of Clarity who produced Group 1 Irish National Stakes winner Pathfork. Visions of Clarity is a half-sister to 1997 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Spinning World.
War of Will made his first four starts on turf, including a strong second in the Grade 1 Summer at Woodbine won by well-regarded Fog of War, but Begg said he always suspected the Preakness winner was better on dirt.
“The thing about the track here is that it doesn’t trick you,” Begg said “If you work well on that track you’re probably a dirt horse.”
War of Will could become the 19th horse to complete the Preakness-Belmont double. The last horse to accomplish the feat was Afleet Alex in 2005.
Begg is also preparing the Casse-trained G3 Peter Pan runner-up Sir Winston for the Belmont and noted that the Awesome Again chestnut will breeze next week at Belmont.
With the 151st running of the Belmont Stakes as its centerpiece, the 2019 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival will include 18 stakes races over the three days, including an unprecedented eight Grade 1 races on Belmont Stakes Day, June 8.